Day 13 – continued
We headed over the border into Italy at the Grand Saint Bernard Pass, round the lake which crosses the border. We’d seen a lovely looking Park4Night spot just on the Italian side of the lake, next to the Bar Ristorante Du Lac. There were signs there saying that it was in fact the car park of said restaurant…so we felt it only right to eat there if we were to sleep there! And oh, the joy of Italian food and prices! It was a simple place, I mean it’s shut for 7 months of the year due to inaccessibility, but everything was homemade and delicious. We had polenta with cheese and various mountain meat stews (venison, sausages and rabbit) and it was delicious, as was the gnocchi with tomato sauce. Super friendly staff too. We had no problems staying in the car park, along with several other motorhomes, most of whom also ate in the restaurant – only thing to note – no credit cards!
We’d gone to sleep beneath cloud the previous night, but we woke up to beautiful clear mountain skies – and surrounded by mountains! We nipped back to the restaurant and picked up some Italian coffee and pastries for breakfast, which we had on the picnic benches in the little islands on the lake – rather idyllic!
We then had a wander up to the Saint Bernard statue and viewpoint, and then actually walked back up round the lake, over the border into Switzerland again to check out the Saint Bernard museum.
This is home to around a dozen Saint Bernard dogs, no longer used for mountain rescue, but very cute all the same, and also the history of the Hospice and pass. It was 10€ entry, and well worth it! The history and stories of the pass are fascinating, and the museum is very well done and bilingual throughout.
Then we continued on into Italy and down into the Aosta valley – to the city of Aosta itself. Here we decided to park up in the official AC Area, which is only 5 minutes walk from the Arco di Augusto, which marks the start of the main pedestrianized street. The area is paid, and is 1€ per hour from 8am-8pm, and looked like a perfectly safe place to leave the van for a few hours.
We walked into the centre in what was pretty horrendous heat, and searched somewhere down for lunch. Prices down the main street were similar to Swiss prices (although the food undoubtedly better), and we were tempted down a side street off the main drag to a rather cheaper no frills place called La Pace. We had simple cheesy rice and cheesy gnocchi both of which were tasty – and it turned out we discovered afterwards, with the local Fontina cheese. This topped with the waiter’s fabulous moustache rather made our meal!
Then we had a lovely wander around Aosta, buying some interesting pasta and cheese from some specialist shops, and getting a glimpse of the main Roman sites in the town centre – the Porta Pretoria, Roman Theatre and cathedral. Then after the obligatory first gelato, we headed on back to the van.
After that we made a little detour…to Lidl! We’d heard that there was a Lidl in Aosta, and our being our first opportunity for a cheap supermarket with organic produce since France, we couldn’t pass it by! Then we headed up the Aosta valley, past its vineyards and impressive range of castles, to re-meet Robin and Jenny (they’d spent the day doing more adventurous things) at the AC area in Valgrisenche, one of the dead-end valleys off the main drag.
It was quite a climb up, and then along to the area, which was just beneath the customary end-of-valley dam. Theoretically now 10€ a night (not the previously advertised 2€), but we got there too late and left to early to see anyone to pay – so free! The area has toilets, showers, and EHU – although there appeared to be no hot water and our EHU post didn’t work!
We got up nice and early the following morning – aided by the workmen on the dam at 7am! Our first stop for the day was a little further down the valley – a walk to the Miollet waterfall. This was chosen as it also finally gave us the opportunity to see Robin and Jenny doing a spot of climbing. We parked up (in 1 van between us) in the village of Bethaz and walked up following the signs for walk 18 through the Alpine flowers and hundreds of butterflies! Several climbing spots along the way – and the spot they chose was one with views of the Matterhorn…unfortunately in a cloud! We continued up a little further for a picnic lunch next to the waterfall in the shade of a tree whilst dipping our hot feet in the little leat next to it. Lovely!
After the walk back down we went back up to the village of Valgrisenche for a drink at the (only) bar. We also popped into church, and the little grocery shop to pick up some more Fontina cheese, and then next door to the Les Tisserands shop/workshop. This is the traditional craft of the valley – sheep’s wool weaving – and the local ladies are still there with their looms in full action today – and of course with their produce on sale – good place for some authentic presents!
Then we headed back down the valley and on up the main Aosta valley towards our next overnight in Val Veny. Accessed by a slightly hairy road from Courmayeur, we stopped to give our hearts a rest at a viewpoint – with our first “view” of Mont Blanc – it was of course in cloud! And also over the southern entrance of the Mont Blanc tunnel – and its eternal traffic jam.
Then onwards a little more to the Camping Monte Bianco – the first of 3 in the valley. Great site, you are positioned by the owner on arrival, and there are 2 good shower/toilet blocks (although only 1x 4 minute shower per person per day), bar, shop and a small pool. Pretty too, with the snow capped mountains and their glaciers towering above, and pine trees dotted around. We had a nice chilled evening – and Robin got to use his fire pit for the first time on the trip – some yummy jacket potatoes with Fontina cheese!
Today it was going to rain – we knew this. We’d planned to go to Courmayeur for pizza for lunch as a result, but not ones to waste a morning, we headed off for a nice, easy, flat walk up the valley directly from the campsite (who were happy for us to leave the vans until late morning).
We wandered up through the pine woods with the mountains above to the far end, where a bridge crossed the torrent coming down from the glacier beyond. And then the drops started – so on with our jackets. We headed back down the valley the other side of the torrent, through the large picnic area beneath the pines, and past the welcoming looking bar/restaurant there…and then the heavens properly opened! Yes Robin, you were right, we should have stopped for a drink in the bar! Instead we sheltered under the eaves of a hut whilst the storm rolled down the valley in rather spectacular fashion. After about half an hour it had rolled completely past, and we continued on, walking back down directly alongside the torrent – and were treated to a helicopter landing straight in front of us (delivering supplies to one of the huts above the glacier, having had to stop mid storm) which was a bonus!
Back down at the campsite we changed clothes and changed the waters of the vans – in what was probably the best set up service area of the trip with hoses and everything.
Then we headed on to Courmayeur for lunch – parking in a car park we later discovered had motorhome prohibition signs (oops), but we managed to get away with it. We headed to Robin and Jenny’s favourite pizza place, Du Tunnel, and had the biggest pizzas we’d ever seen! Enough to take away for lunch the next day, bonus!
Then we wandered on down the main street, popping into some of the many mountain shops along the way, for an ice cream at the end.
After that, we continued on to our next overnight – our final overnight in Italy and with Robin & Jenny, just below the Little Saint Bernard Pass. The road up is a windy one of course, and interestingly the curves are numbered! 7 hairpins! There are several places to park up at the top, all of which are great and flat, we chose the first one, next to the lake below the pass which seemed to have nice views out of both front and back windows!
The night before had been pretty dull weather wise – but the next day was another story! I personally find it quite hard to not wake up at the crack of dawn when I know we’re going to have great views in the morning (I drive Gonzalo mad), so at 6am I quietly got dressed and snuck out for a little morning walk all on my tod. And wow it was worth it! I walked up the road and there it was, finally, Mont Blanc – in fact no less than sunrise over Mont Blanc – oh yes! I continued walking up to the pass, a gentle 20 minute walk up the road, and had a little investigate of the Roman site up there, and then walked over into France (hehe!) and checked out the stone circle which encompasses the border. Walking back down along the lakeside I got fairly close to 2 different marmots (one was huge!), and then got back to the vans and woke everyone else up.
After breakfast we said our goodbyes to Robin and Jenny, as they headed back into Italy to continue their travels, and we headed over into France, over the pass once more and past the Little Saint Bernard Hospice and obligatory statue.
Continued in Alps – 4/4 – France